Sunday Book-Thought 86

This brief history is intended to show some of the ways in which so-called big-box bookstores emerge within, respond to, and partially transform the specific local and regional contexts – the senses of place – of which they are a part. It would be easy to read Barnes & Noble’s opening at New Hope Commons as symptomatic of the ‘malling’ of America and thus of the growing dominance of national chains. At some level it probably is. Yet the store’s presence there also needs to be recognized as an important engine of economic development for the city of Durham and, more specifically, as a strategy for redistributing the area’s wealth. It is but one facet of a much larger struggle to redress socioeconomic and racial disparities, whose origins extend back to well before the Civil War. Efforts to resist the building of the shopping center were equally complex. Protesters certainly responded to real concerns – especially environmental ones – about the mall’s location and construction. By the same token, the desire to resist the spread of national chains in the area, particularly among some Chapel Hill residents, could also be construed as an indirect way of preserving the area’s existing distribution of wealth and racial privilege. This isn’t to say that building more malls is the correct path to development, nor the best way to combat economic and racial inequality. The protests, however, do raise two interrelated questions: Why do certain communities have the privilege of not opening big-box bookstores? Under what historical conditions do communities choose to accept or reject those stores?
Ted Striphas, The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), p. 77.

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